Tips on Painting in Hyperrealism Using Acrylics

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Realism is a style of art that portrays people, animals and landscapes in a truthful way without embellishing the artwork with unnatural elements. Realist artists pick their subjects from real characters; they don’t create paintings of mythological or imaginary creatures. Hyperrealism takes realism a step further; in fact, the finished painting could be mistaken for a high-resolution or high-definition black-and-white or color photograph. Another word for hyperrealism is photorealism. Artists work from actual photographs.

Smooth Painting Surfaces

To paint in a hyperrealist style, begin with a smooth canvas or painting surface. The best choice for photorealism artwork is wood panel or art canvas covered with several layers of gesso -- a white acrylic medium that prepares the canvas for painting. Apply gesso to the board or canvas and sand between coats to make the surface smoother. The smoother the painting surface, the more realistic-looking the painting. You can also purchase pregessoed panels if you prefer.

The Grid Method

Hyperrealist artists work from photographs, often much smaller than the painting. To create the image realistically, many artists add a grid to the photograph of equally sized squares. This grid is then transferred to the canvas or panel with the same number of squares, but much larger. Add letters to the boxes down the side and numbers across the top – like a spreadsheet – on both the photograph and canvas. Then transfer the detail in each grid to the canvas by drawing only what appears in each square with a pencil. Other methods for transferring the photo include a projector or transfer paper.

The Underpainting

To keep your drawing intact on the canvas after transferring it with one of the chosen methods, apply a light gesso coat to keep the pencil from smudging. After the gesso dries, start by adding shadows first, working with one color at a time. Don’t worry about details; right now you just want to get the shadows and basic colors onto the panel or canvas. Keep the acrylics diluted with water to apply bright, light coats of color. Complete the entire underpainting before adding details.

Use Small Brushes

To get the necessary detail, work with small fine-haired and fine-tipped paintbrushes. You can use large brushes for swaths of color -- such as the background of a still life or portrait -- but when painting the final details, use small, eye makeup-sized brushes.

Color Mixing

Have plenty of titanium white on hand to create highlights; titanium buff also helps to soften some of the those highlights because it is not as bright. For colors that have an artificial quality to them, tone them down with dabs of burnt or raw umber. Use black as a mix for darker colors to create shadows or shading, but use it sparingly, as black goes a long way. Use as many colors as you want; just make certain that they appear realistic.

Acrylic Glaze and Retarder

The secret to making a hyperrealist acrylic painting is using acrylic glazes -- watered-down acrylics -- or paints mixed with mediums such as an acrylic glazing medium or acrylic retarder. Squeeze a dime-sized amount of the retarder or glaze onto the palette to use as you mix colors. Acrylics thin with water, but glazing medium also thins the paint while bringing a lifelike quality to your colors. When mixing colors, you want to match the colors as closely as possible to those in the photograph.

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